Saturday, 19 May 2012

NEWS RELEASE: Niagara Coalition for Peace Marches Against NATO Summit as part of World-Wide Actions

May 19, 2012

Niagara Coalition for Peace
Contact: Saleh Waziruddin, co-convenor
905 394 0029 (cell)

Niagara Coalition for Peace Marches Against NATO Summit as part of World-Wide Actions

ST. CATHARINES, ON – Niagara residents marched in downtown St. Catharines from the library to MP Rick Dykstra's office at 4:30 pm on Saturday, May 19th as part of world-wide demonstrations against the NATO Summit in Chicago. The Chicago authorities have already opposed the plans of demonstrators there but the Niagara Coalition for Peace has organized this demonstration in St Catharines to show local opposition to NATO and the wars in Afghanistan, Libya, as well as potential wars on Syria and Iran. The march is endorsed by Ploughshares Niagara, Council of Canadians (Niagara South), and also features as a speaker Dave McKee, President of the Canadian Peace Congress, who has just returned from a regional World Peace Council meeting in Caracas, Venezuela.

“The Canadian Council of Churches, representing 140,000 Canadians such as those in the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches of Canada, has asked NATO to withdraw nuclear weapons from non-nuclear countries and stop 'nuclear sharing' which gives nuclear-tasks to non-nuclear members” said Fiona McMurran of the Council of Canadians (Niagara South). Niagara Coalition for Peace co-convener Saleh Waziruddin explained that “three years ago even Stephen Harper admitted the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, yet now he wants Canadian soldiers there even beyond the 2014 withdrawal date. It is through NATO that Canada is in Afghanistan, where we are complicit in torture, and it is through NATO that we launched war on Libya and are in danger of wars on Syria and Iran. To stop these endless wars of destruction and torture, Canada must withdraw from NATO.” Dave McKee, Canadian Peace Congress President, added that “NATO has a nuclear first-strike policy and so does Canada through being part of NATO. The US recently announced that the F-35s will carry a specially re-designed B61 nuclear bomb, and we must know if our F-35 dollars are also being used for the re-design of a nuclear bomb.”

Chants from the downtown march and rally included:

“No to NATO, No to War!
We won't let you torture any more!”

“Not one dollar for fighter jets,
spend our taxes on hospital beds!”

“If we're out of NATO, out of war
Then for education, healthcare we'll have more!”

The Niagara Coalition for Peace (NC4P) is a regional peace organization which is part of the Canadian Peace Congress and Canadian Peace Alliance, and its past anti-war resolutions were adopted by the city councils of Welland, Niagara Falls, West Lincoln, and Thorold, and in a revised form in St. Catharines and the Regional Municipality of Niagara. The Canadian Peace Congress was founded in 1949 for world peace and disarmament and is part of the World Peace Council, which is organizing a World Peace Assembly in Kathmandu, Nepal for June 20-23.


Is PRIVATIZED health care coming?

Is PRIVATIZED health care coming?
What does it mean for Ontario?

Come and hear Doug Allan, a hospital union researcher, speak about the approaching ramp-up of the privatization of health care as part of the austerity budget.

2 pm, Saturday May 19
St Catharines Library, 54 Church St
Rotary Room (basement)

A People's Voice forum (
for more information please contact or 905 394 0029

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Shirley's Story

Shirley's Story
interview by Asad Ali
as published in The Spark! #23, December 2011
90th Anniversary of the Communist Party of Canada

Through much of the 1970s the progressive movement in Canada was lead by the labour movement, driven largely by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and in the CAW's forefront was Local 199 in St. Catharines, which in turn was lead by the Unity Caucus influenced by the local Communist Party club. 

The Spark! interviewed Shirley Hawley, an Aboriginal woman who was a rank-and-file autoworker and a Communist Party member who fought first-hand in many of the battles that laid the basis of strength for the Canadian left in the 1970s. Shirley currently is an active CAW retiree and is also the Secretary-Treasurer of the Communist Party's Eric Blair Club in Niagara.

Background: Early Years of the Communist Party in Niagara

Prior to the strategic role in the CAW in the Canadian left, Communists had been active in Niagara since the early 20th century. Newspaper accounts show how in 1930 eleven party activists were arrested in Niagara Falls for attempting a peace march in coordination with comrades from the CPUSA across the border. In the summer of 1935 unemployed workers went on strike at relief camps in Welland, organized by Communist Frank Haslam among others, for the second time in order to get charges withdrawn from strikers arrested earlier and also for the right to use their vouchers at stores nearby instead of having to hike just to cash their pay. Haslam and four others had been arrested after the provincial police threw tear gas bombs at the unemployed. In December of 1936 Local 199 of the United Auto Workers (UAW, now CAW) at the McKinnon (now GM) plant in St. Catharines was founded with the leadership of Haslam and the help of the unemployed workers movement.

When the Communist Party of Canada was banned in 1941 Niagara communist Charlie Weir had been arrested in Windsor by the RCMP and accused of being both a communist and a union organizer. He was successfully defended on most of the charges by David Goldstick, the father of the current editor of The Spark.

In the summer of 1946 striking Canadian Seamen's Union (CSU) sailors had to fight scab ships on the Welland canal, defended by police on-board. The CSU strike, lead in part by communists such as Mel Doig who was in his late 20s, was assisted by UAW and International Chemical Workers Union (ICWU) locals, the latter lead by George Gare. This was followed by a summer-long auto workers strike in 1948 in St. Catharines to get the same pay as Windsor and Oshawa workers, lead in part by communists such as Local 199's vice president Lloyd Hawke. The CCF, forerunners of the NDP, were criticized publicly by both the Labor Progressive Party (LPP, Communists) and the union for urging a settlement and collaboration with management. 

Management had declared the strike illegal and, as with USW 1005 Hamilton steelworkers today, tried to get the membership to bypass the elected leadership and vote on the offer. The leadership rejected this trick, and even when the union did later vote on the offer, only one member voted to accept it. In the fall, the Labour Board allowed the company to prosecute the union for the strike. The next year two party members, activists in the United Electrical workers (UE) and CSU, were elected to the municipal councils of Crowland and Humberstone, now part of Welland.

In the Red Scare years many Niagara communists were purged by social-democrats in collusion with management and right-wing politicians. In 1949 George Gare was fired in-person by the International (i.e. US) President of the ICWU for connections to local communists. In 1957 the ICWU raided Niagara Falls chemical plants from the UE. However, from 1953 to to 1971 communist Gordie Lambert was GM plant chair and Unity (left) Caucus leader for the CAW's local 199 in St. Catharines. In 1973 Port Colborne union activist John Severinsky successfully fought his expulsion from the Steelworkers for handing out a supplement on food prices of the Canadian Tribune, forerunner of the People's Voice newspaper, a month after his election to the Inco local's office. These latter incidents were contemporary to Shirley Hawley's working life at the St. Catharines GM plant.

Interview with Shirley Hawley

Spark: How did you join the Communist Party?

Shirley Hawley: I was involved with the NDP and I didn't like it: didn't like their ideas, theory, and what they thought the future should be. I remained in the NDP for less than a year. I was elected as my riding's financial secretary. The riding association was split. There was a left and a right. My way of thinking was always to the left. I had no political education up to this time. I became a single mother and had three children to look after and was out in the labour force. I knew things weren't right. Then I got a job at a union plant, GM was then McKinnon with local 199. I was still involved with the NDP and not happy with the way they were going. I started in the foundry. There was a strong left caucus there. I got involved with them. I liked the way the committee men represented you and I felt comfortable with them. I attended a few of their meetings and got involved. They could depend on me when they wanted to take action.

I got involved with the party. I wasn't a member but I was very close to them. I belonged to the CCW (Congress of Canadian Women). I was selected to be one of 120 women from Canada, we were invited to a women's conference in the Soviet Union, Moscow. 

My eyes were opened up to women's rights and things like that. It was put on by the women's part of the Communist Party. There were a lot of professional people there and academics. I felt quite comfortable there and attended all their sessions. I could not go to all of them, there was not enough time. The ones I did go to I spoke at. They claimed to be interested in me because I was on the floor in the labour movement, working at an auto plant.

The conference was 2 weeks long. I was invited to stay over for another week by the women's committee and tour auto plants there. They wanted me to tour and give them an idea of our plants and what differences there were. I was quite impressed with how the Soviet Union was running at that time. I came back in '87 I think it was, and I joined the party. I was very close to the party in the Niagara region. A lot of it had to do with Eric Blair (the organizer). I've been a member ever since.

What impressed you about what you saw in the Soviet Union?

Their education. Women working alongside of men at the same wage. You could do anything, any work that you wanted to do to better yourself. Medical things were open for women there. I was very impressed with their day care at work and a lot of it was in their community. You could drop your children off on your way to work. Daycare was quite convenient for you, not a long way to go for daycare and then a long way to work. Quite different from what we have here!

Most women still had to buy their daily groceries to make their meals, (the) only negative thing that I saw for women. Housing was adequate, great programs for their youth, sports activities, in the music field, (public) palace of this palace of that, social participation of children learning. Kids were allowed to go to the ballet and the opera. Most of our youth can't afford that and it's not available for them. Always had a good sports program. You could see that in the figure skating and hockey, I imagine all the other sports too. That's what I was really interested in

Can you tell us about the illegal strike or walk-out you were a part of?

The Unity Caucus - Left Caucus - we were in the foundry and an employee got disciplined from higher up because something went wrong and it wasn't this employee's fault at all. It was a supervisor (at fault) but he was covering up his mistake by getting rid of this employee. This happened on the midnight shift. When we came to work in the morning, all the union left-wing delegates, they spread the word and they said that they were going to take action around 11 O'clock in the morning. When you get the word, you spread the word and you talk all morning and when the time comes you get the people to follow you. We had a great attendance of the people, almost all the people walked out. We kept them almost 24 hours, nobody coming in, no deliveries trucks or parts. We caught some of the supervisors (at the entrance) and told them what was happening. Some turned around and went home, and some didn't.

Early morning one supervisor wanted to go in and I asked them not to and explained everything. He said I'm going in (anyway). I just got in front of his car and laid down in front of it. He waited a while but he turned around and went home. It was something that I did out of reflex, on the spur of the moment, and after I realized what I did I was really scared and frightened. I was just so much into what I was doing, it was automatic.

Did you win on the issue?

I got served by the labour board. Several people did. The employee that was fired wasn't fired, he got his job back. The whole story came out, the supervisor was reprimanded. He didn't get fired, didn't lose any time. Didn't lose any management. Almost everyone (on strike) that they caught on camera lost a day's a pay, lost some money. But I got wrote up and it was on my record. I think I lost a day's pay and all. That was it. The employee kept his job. We won but it was an illegal strike and the union had to pay some money.

I obeyed them and (CAW) 199 got that all squashed. I was served so many papers, boxes (full). I never did read it. One of the main fellows in our left supporters, he told me “Shirley you've done your job, now go home.” Anyone that got served, the union could be liable $1000 a day. Quite high. I obeyed them and the union didn't have to pay anything. There was some settlement, it was an illegal strike.

All strikes used to be illegal. It's coming back in Canada. Some unions don't have the right to strike yet. We've got this government that will legislate you back to work. Its not good for the union. What power does the union have? That was one of their main strengths was to strike, that was a landmark for the union when they got it. When the contract is up (and) you can't come to a settlement, you have the right to strike. 

When that's taken away from you, your rights are being eroded, taken away. It has been going on for quite a few years. The unions are losing ground and losing power, conceded for different wage scales. With the job loss and downsizing of our industries, it's a way of keeping the ones that are there still working. Don't blame the union, the union has had to make a lot of concessions for 10 years or so but it's slowly breaking up the unions.

Can you tell us about how the Unity Caucus (left-wing) lost influence to the Blue Slate (right-wing, within the union local), and the influence of the Communist Party?

It was the early 80s that they (the left) lost the power. There was some building of egos, an ego fight within the caucus. Someone who was a protege of Gordie Lambert, he sold Gordie out and went the other way. It made a big rift in the caucus, it lost strength then. Because of the infighting and the disagreements, they couldn't operate with these two ideas of how to handle a problem. And then what really put the kibosh on the unity caucus was when one committee man during a shut down agreed to, not sure just exactly what, but it was classifications right in the contract. He agreed to give these up. So when the workers come up to work, this agreement was in place. We didn't know how it was possible: it wasn't even negotiation time, but it turned out that it was. I really don't know how. People lost faith. 

This committeeman who did this was supposed to be a unity slate guy . Turned out he sold us out, the deal was for him to give up this classification of certain areas and he had quite a easy way at work. A lot of times he wasn't there and still got paid. People seen that. The only thing they had (in response) was to withdraw their support. Very few of the unity slate guys got elected the next time around. It just went from bad to worse.

We had a left-wing plant chairman, Gordie Lambert, but that as high as the unity caucus went. There wasn't that much Party influence. We did as much as we could with the members we had, helped on the picket line and different protests. We did march with our banner “Communist Party of Canada” for the first time in the 1995 labour and community groups' Days of Action against Ontario Tory Premier Mike Harris, that to me was a big thing. Eric Blair (club organizer) was invited out to speak at different things. He was well respected, he was awarded from the labour council a plaque. I also was, from the labour council, awarded for being an activist. I've been active in my community and the peace movement. Eric Blair had been around for many many years and this the first award he ever got. It was delivered on his death bed! Took a long time. He was well respected. We all were. So many people agreed with us but just couldn't vote for us.

I ran for school trustee and got a very good reception. There was a spot open as I was told he (the incumbent) wasn't going to run anymore, and I started with my literature and going door to door which was something that wasn't heard of for school board trustee. On local cable TV they all didn't show up (for a debate). It was a given that the same people over and over would get elected. It's still like that, “old blood.” I started with my partner Don Quinn and Toronto helped us, the Provincial Party Office. This fellow that was going to not run, all of a sudden decided he's out there (running). I got a very big vote but didn't get elected. I got invited to all the meetings where the candidates speak. When I was canvassing I had people say “you're the first school trustee to come to my door.” They just assumed they got elected. I never followed that before I got involved, didn't know that's the way it was. These same people had been in for years.

The Eric Blair Club was the first communist club that went into the union hall on different days there
was a public event, such as International Women's Day. When the notice went up that you could rent a table and came, I applied and we got it. We were quite visible, right around our table “Communist Party of Canada.” People were shocked but they were interested too, had a lot of inquiries.

Our downfall was we didn't have a lot of people. I guess we didn't interview them enough, talk
to them enough to see if they were real (communists). Didn't know just who was honest.

What is some advice you would give to new members?

Get yourself educated and find out really the background, the struggle of the party and what we really stand for. A lot of people that come in think they have a lot of action, marches and protests, but that isn't all that's there do. I think the best thing is get yourself educated and really know what the party's all about.  No one knows now with the struggles that we have, this is the only party that's going to help the people out of the situation . The era that we're in, all the issues that the other parties have they don't take in the working class people that are working, struggling, lost their jobs working for minimum wage or low wages, two and three jobs to support their families . Everything (prices) is going up, there just aren't enough jobs around. The govt has allowed this. You have to really get yourself educated and understand. I picked the women's issues. I worked on that. I organized women in my union on the women's committee.

I think picking an issue to find out what you really want to work in, it would be more effective that way. Join a club, find out what your club is doing and how you can help. One other thing is we have to distribute our paper, the People's Voice, that's very important.

The people that are involved that are communists, comrades, I've never met more hard working, sincere people in my life. There are so few of us and they work so hard, whether it's when an election comes up or it's a protest or getting out to support a strike, delivering the paper. I don't think the history is much different (now), we don't have the people and the people really don't realize what's happening to them. When that happens and they realized what happened, we'll have history in this time. We'll have more communists and more history. People have to start to fight back. It's gotta happen with what's happening now, especially the young people and I think the party sees that with the YCL'ers (Young Communist League). It's growing in different provinces. Right here you've (to interviewer) had some success. These are the people that's going to make some history.

Can you tell us about your plant experiences as an Aboriginal women?

I haven't really worked on that. In the area I am living in (retired) now, I have been asked to come out to their meetings and get involved with them. The President of the Native association here just left my house, I get a lot of info from him. It's quite a highly populated area of Aboriginal people. I was very proud of my mother, I got my bloodline from my mother. I was proud of that that. I didn't like it when people characterized people like being a “drunken Indian”, (I would say) “but I've seen a drunken white person,” things like that. “They don't work,” (I would reply) “if you were taken out of your environment and way of life you might be acting like that too!.” They have problems but we're coming a long way with addressing their problems and educating.

I knew I had to got involved. Some organization had to fight for women. I had three children and had to get a job. I had to show I was in the process of getting a divorce as they wouldn't hire a married woman (on the production line)! Office staff could meet someone at the plant and keep their job. In 1964 they had a two-tier wage scale. I worked beside a man, we ran a machine together and he got a dollar an hour more than I did. He did one end, I ran the other end. That changed, that was one of the reasons really I got involved. Things weren't right for women. I was a woman with kids, wanted to have a future for them and support them .

As for the NDP, they weren't going to do nothing for us. That's the way I went. I drifted and I met communists and liked them, and their way of thinking. I knew I'd found my place.

Niagara News Bulletin May 16-31

Niagara News Bulletin
by People's Voice Niagara Bureau

* Lincoln County Humane Society workers of CUPE 1287 took their employer to the labour board for bad faith bargaining after a continuing impasse in their strike. Initially management was not even willing to talk to the workers who reject a two-tier contract. The union has been running a newspaper and radio campaign to pressure the shelter executive director and have been joined by the Niagara Animal Defense League as well as other unions.
* 330 St. Catharines TRW auto parts workers were able to reverse a wage freeze and two-tier pension contract after an under- 24 hour strike, with new workers now having a pension like their coworkers.
* Hundreds of workers held a candelight vigil on their last day at the Ft. Erie slots as the provincial austerity layoffs took effect, while area municipal governments have vowed to take over the business and run it themselves.
* Over 10,000 people protested on May 2 at Grimsby Secondary School against the Liberal provincial government’s reneging on reconstructing the local hospital, whose board chair wrote a new protest song “Promises Not Enough”. Although the local MPP who is also the Conservative party leader attended, he was warned by the crowd to not take the stage.
* The labour council and regional government unveiled a plaque to remember injured and killed workers as part of the Day of Mourning, while an inquest opened into the death two years ago of a 19-year old construction worker being paid under the table.
* The manager of the regional government’s chronic disease and injury prevention division announced that the price of a nutritional breakfast in Niagara has gone up 7% between 2010 and 2011 and called for politicians to ensure “adequate income levels” for all. Meanwhile two Niagara food banks laid off staff, one official explaining “our demand is up 9% and our revenue is down 5%.”
* Even though the Supreme Court of Canada’s appeal rejection has hammered the last nail into the coffin of a class action lawsuit by Port Colborne residents suing Vale Inco for polluting their land and their health, the residents vow to continue their fight by suing individually. Vale’s responsibility for the pollution was proved, but the court ruled it wasn’t violating the environmental laws of the time.